Referendum on the Eighth Amendment


Sir, – Rev Prof D Vincent Twomey in his letter (May 18th) commenting on my article (May 16th) dealing with the possible consequences in law of the repeal and replacement of the Eighth Amendment says that the Supreme Court in the case I discussed “dismissed consideration of the obiter dicta in pre-1983 cases ...”

The court, on the contrary, subjected the arguments for and against the correctness or otherwise of the dicta in question to an exhaustive analysis, but concluded that it was not necessary and, arguably, not possible to decide whether they were correct. They came to that conclusion because they were concerned with interpreting the Constitution as it stands, not as it was before the present Article 40.3.3 was inserted.

Many lawyers will also be surprised by Prof Twomey’s assertion that “no court can be expected to recognise any fundamental rights anterior to, and not merely derived from the Constitution, in any challenge to the proposed legislation”. He says that this is because of “contemporary positivistic jurisprudence”. He appears to be referring to the refusal of a majority in the Supreme Court to extend the range of unenumerated rights in the Constitution to include what are usually called “socio-economic rights”, such as the right to housing. The majority did so, not because they were embracing positivism, but because they regarded the enforcement of those rights by the courts as usurping the role of the executive and legislature in areas of policy. If the right to life of the unborn is recognised definitively by the courts as an implied constitutional right, it most probably will be because such a right is regarded as a corollary of the right to life itself. It most certainly could not be categorised as a socio-economic right.

I wrote the article in question because I was concerned that statements that the Supreme Court had decided that the the repeal and replacement of the Eighth Amendment would mean the end of the constitutional right to life of the unborn were dangerously simplistic and misleading. I at no stage suggested that I, or anyone else, could predict with certainty what the courts might decide in a new legal landscape. – Yours, etc,


(Former Chief Justice),

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Some people seem to think that, because the proposed legislation does not include the disability of the child as specific grounds for abortion, disabled children are thereby protected. This is entirely without substance.

If tests indicate before 12 weeks that the growing child has Down syndrome, the disabled child will have no protection at all, and there is no reason to believe that the termination rates of children with Down syndrome at this stage would not approach the levels we see in our neighbouring countries, such as Britain, where nine out of 10 unborn children diagnosed as having Down syndrome have their lives ended.

Even after 12 weeks, the proposed legislation allows abortion up to six months in cases of (undefined) risk to the mental health of the mother. Given cutbacks in support for the families of children with disabilities, it is envisageable that prenatal diagnosis of disability would lead to great distress for many women, and it is equally predictable that many doctors would propose the falsely compassionate “solution” of abortion.

There is no avoiding this conclusion: the proposed legislation offers no protection to the children whose conditions typically lead to their lives being ended at wildly disproportionate rates. The Eighth Amendment is the last line of defence for unborn children with disability, and our last hope for a coherent, truly compassionate culture around disability. – Yours, etc,



Co Donegal.

Sir, – As a mother of two children who lost a baby to a rare fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) in 2011, I was shocked to find this heart-wrenching experience referred to as one of the sort dubbed “the hard cases”, supposedly exploited by the Yes side to distract from the wider need for abortion care.

Two things are perfectly clear to me. First, the experience of FFA is being discussed widely for good reason: the current situation is barbaric, and there is no way to legislate for termination for the families suffering such loss unless we vote yes and remove the Eighth Amendment. Second, no one is quite as keen to label us “hard cases” as the No campaign. They question the validity of our diagnoses, experiences and decisions in order to dispute our being deserving of compassion. They query my first son’s triploidy, suggesting that maybe it wasn’t really a hard case at all, that perhaps he might have had a chance of survival for a few hours or days at least – all while ignoring my assertions and questioning my moral judgement at a time of huge loss and grief. As if it matters to them. As if their denial of our loss isn’t just a way for them to provoke a moment of doubt. As if they support abortion for the hard cases. We know they don’t. We know the only way to compassion is Yes.

Let’s keep talking about the hard cases, but let’s also embrace the nuance and stop the cross-examination of those who reach out for help. Let’s accept that drawing a line is hard, and that those best placed to draw that line are those affected by it. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

A chara – If in doubt, the safest choice is No.

For those concerned with “ensoulment”, does it really matter whether the soul arrives on a Thursday or a Friday? With or without a soul, a human creation needs all the protection it can get. On your ballot paper, use your X to give a resounding No. – Is mise,



Sir, – I am a doctor specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology in Ireland. I remember many patients; there is one patient I will never forget. She made the difficult lonely decision to go to England to have an abortion. She didn’t tell anybody. She took the prescribed medication, and didn’t wait the recommended time. She was so anxious to get home, she feared having to explain her absence. On the plane home, she started to bleed, heavily. By the time she arrived to the emergency department she needed an emergency surgical procedure and a blood transfusion. If the plane journey had been longer she may have died. The following morning she lay crying in a six-bed room. She wondered how she would explain her admission to hospital. She lay alone unsupported by friends or family. I held her hand. I felt ashamed that this is how women living in Ireland are treated.

To those of you who intend to vote No next week or who are still undecided, I ask that you vote Yes for safe healthcare. If the No vote passes you will go on your way, and I will go back to work with my head held in shame, hoping that the plane gets here on time. – Yours, etc,



Co Offaly.

Sir, – We are not voting for healthcare or a better health service. We are not voting for compassion. Real compassion helps mothers through pregnancy with proper counselling, perinatal hospice care, supports and services that they deserve. We are voting in an abortion referendum. Once the Eighth Amendment is removed, there will be no need for politicians to consult the electorate on abortion. We will hand control to the politicians and it’s up to them after that. We are at the mercy of what the politicians want. We will replace our right to live with a right to kill. This should frighten us. We are voting to remove all rights of the unborn to life from the Constitution. We are going to approve abortion procedures to bring about that right to kill. – Yours, etc,



Co Waterford.

Sir, — Out of the forest of newsprint on the forthcoming referendum, here is the handful of words, balanced and humane, that has informed and will emblazon my hitherto dithering mind as I walk to the polls next Friday: “Few pro-choice people deny that abortion doesn’t have consequences. But they want to take responsibility, to have it in Ireland, free of shame and secrecy.”

From the Opinion piece of Anne Harris (May 19th). Bears reading again and again. Thank you. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fergus O’ Ferrall (Rite & Reason, May 8th) is appalled that “certain spokespeople for Christians have argued that we cannot trust our parliament and legislators to proceed responsibly on the legislation that ought to follow a Yes vote”.

I refer him to an article in The Irish Times of April 27th, where TD Bríd Smith, one of our legislators, said People before Profit’s position would continue to be that abortion should be accessible as “early as possible and as late as necessary”.

Should we all not be appalled at this mindset? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 24.

Sir, – Regarding the Eighth Amendment, I too like so many others have been on a journey.

My journey started on a Sunday in March 1972 when my twin sister and I were born in St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home on the Navan Road.

Our very young birth mother Margaret had grown up in the industrial school system since she was two years old. She became pregnant in the care of the church and State as a result of sexual abuse. Her two pregnancies produced three daughters who were given up for adoption.

Her pregnancies were unplanned and unexplained and without sexual consent. She was in care. She then became a Magdalene laundry inmate for the rest of her life until her death at age of 51. We met her when we were 23 and she was 41. She was severely institutionalised.

I have been a mother for 14 years and I feel very glad to have had two wanted pregnancies with my husband resulting in two healthy and lovely children, a boy and a girl. I love being a mother. I think that the unborn is a potential baby. I think that abortion is very sad. I would not like to be in a position where I felt that was my only option. But I know that some women and couples are in that position, and for those citizens I have decided to vote Yes. You deserve our love and understanding, and on our soil.

My birth mother had none of those options.

For Margaret and for you, I will be voting Yes on May 25th. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 12.

Sir, – With regard to Gerald Leahy’s excellent letter (May 19th), may I say that I completely agree with what he says about the abortion lobby. I would also add that the semantic sophistry employed by that same lobby, in consistently using terms like “pregnancy” or “foetus” and “women’s health” instead of “baby” and “abortion”, comes from the same school of euphemism that gives us gems like “collateral damage” and “friendly fire”.

For a truly compassionate outcome for all involved let’s keep the Eighth and do away with the myopic misadventure that our Government have set out upon.

When the dust settles, we could then set about finding truly compassionate solutions for women, men and unborn children who are involved in crisis pregnancies. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – I think a more appropriate slogan to appear on the side of Ben Bulben would be “No More” – Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.